What’s With All Those Roots?

 Taking puppies for a walk at Dream a Dream Dog Farm was one of the highlights of this trip.  It was worth noting though, so you don’t trip and fall, that the roots of the trees are rise and fall at the surface of the ground making for a beautiful, though sometimes treacherous, sojourn.

tree roots

 When I asked about this phenomena, I was told that it was due to permafrost and the silt layers left over from glaciers that were here more recent than where I am from.  This started a little study on my part.  Permafrost is soil or silt that remains below 0° degrees Centigrade or 32° degrees Fahrenheit for at least two consecutive years.  Many areas have experienced permafrost for over 10,000 years.  Therefore trees in these areas must spread their root systems across the thin layers of top soil that there is and since the trees do grow so closely together the mass of roots gnarl and bulge about the surface frequently.  Though quaintly beautiful, this causes the trees to be shorter in stature than others of their species.

more tree roots

This situation does cause some concern for the eco system in that when there is a warming system causing something called thermokarst, a ground slump caused by melting permafrost undermines the shallow root system causing the trees to lean or tilt the “drunken tree” effect seen in many spruce forests.

 There is the concern by some people that global warming may melt the permafrost enough that the trees lose ground exposed to erosion therefore affecting the content of streams due to run off. The change in the chemical content of the streams could affect fish populations which could potentially affect the subsistence lifestyle still practiced in many areas of Alaska.

Birch or black spruce in bottomlands usually indicates permafrost within four to five feet of the surface and white spruce, poplar and aspen indicates the likelihood that permafrost is within two feet of the soil surface.  An activity for your students may be to study topographical/vegetation maps to determine the depth of permafrost in certain areas.

 Hope this starts some conversations,


The Picnic

Today was the day for mushers to come to Iditarod Headquarters to sign up for the 2012 race.  Not all of the contestants come to the Musher Picnic to sign up, some sign up on line, but if they do each has a chance to win one of two free registrations for the race.  That is a $3,000.o00 value.

That can buy quite a bit of dog food!!!

The picnic is also an opportunity for volunteers and fans alike to get to know many of their favorite mushers.  Autographs were free and abundant and so were well wishes.  It seems like a year since we have seen everyone, but it has only been a few months.

The “surprise” of the day was the return to the race of Jeff King who had announced his retirement in 2010.

Lance Mackey pulled 13th to pull his bib number at the Musher’s Banquet in March.  That number has always seemed to play a big part in the Mackey family.

Kelly Griffin and Martin Buser won the refunds of their entry fees.

Quite literally, a wonderful time was had by all.  A long, tiring and wonderful day!


This Was a Full Day !!!

It was a day of presentations and learning not to be matched.  The day started off with a presentation from Martha Dobson, Target’s Teacher on the Trail 2011.  She recounted her journey before, during and after her experience on the Iditarod Trail.  It was clear that this was a journey whose experience would affect a lifetime, not only for Martha, but everyone she touches.  There were exquisite moments of revelation and pride, not only for the steadfastness of mushers, but the strength of all those with whom she came in contact including volunteers, residents of the villages, but also teachers in these remote schools.

Then we listened to Pam Flowers tell about her trip across the arctic and met Ellie of Ellie’s Long Walk.    Some of the distances Pam covered in her trip across the arctic were almost 400 miles between communities.  She also pointed out to us that the arctic is a desert and that hydration for her dogs was of extreme importance.  Pam named all of her female dogs on that team after suffragettes, a very cool fact for me.

Pam was followed by Katie Mangelsdorf who is writing a book about the life of Joe Redington Sr. called Champion of Alaskan Huskies.  It is written at about the 6th grade level so it is very accessible for our students with 145 pictures to keep those reluctant readers of ours engaged.  Katie’s book is full of inspiring quotations for our students like – “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you are right.” by Henry Ford or the clear “You learn by your mistakes,” by Joe Redington.  Katie’s book sets straight, for the record, some of the stories about the beginning of the Iditarod.

Our next presenter was Stu Nelson, head veterinarian for the Iditarod.  Stu stressed the concern that all of us have for these amazing canine athletes.  He pointed out that thousands of hours of study and thousands upon thousands of dollars are spent every year to ensure the health and well being of sled dogs.  Roughly 50 veterinarians from around the globe travel to Alaska every year at their own expense to volunteer for the Iditarod because of the adoration they have for these dogs.

Then we were off to the Van Zyle’s studio where we ran into Dee Dee Jonrowe who is fostering a litter of puppies in their kennel.    The respect for the tradition of the sled dog is apparent at every turn when you visit them and their artwork pays homage to the precious quality of life here in Alaska.  I have to admit that I am in awe of their work and try at every turn to learn from the best example of creativity I have known.

Another amazing day here in Alaska and tomorrow the Musher’s Picnic!!!  I can’t wait . . .


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Native Cultural Center Today

Today the campers journeyed to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.  This is an amazing place not only to view artifacts and see traditional housing for the various peoples of Alaska, but to witness young people demonstrating their native games for us.

They explained that the games are designed to keep the people fit in the winter time for the physical challenges of hunting which many communities still do for subsistance.   One of the competitions is a long jump that combines a hop, two foot jump and a leap.  They compete for distance and it is designed to mimic the experience of jumping from ice flow to ice flow while hunting seal.

The video you viewed was of the straight leg kick which requires the contestant to kick the ball while holding their body completely off the ground and maintain balance and control.  Much easier said than done.

We also took in John Baker’s new exhibit and visited with him listening to strategies during the race and the belief in oneself that it takes to complete such an enormous task.  When asked who he considered his role model or mentor in this pursuit, he said “My mother.”  That was a satisfying moment for all us moms.

After the Native Heritage Center experience the campers were off on adventures of their own choosing.  I can’t wait to hear the stories.  A very full day.


Living a Dream

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It was with a great deal of sadness that the campers packed up and left Dream a Dream Dog Farm today.  We really had the time of our lives.  We went from beginners to advanced beginners at harnessing and booting dogs sled dogs and they (the dogs) were so patient with us.

We shared lessons and carrot cake and late night discussions.  We really bonded as a group.  We saw and tried to experience the day to day work of a kennel.  We listened to amazing stories from the trail and tried to understand all the plans a musher has to make on the trail to bring the dogs to Nome safely and happily.

We named a litter of five two-week-old puppies after tools of the classroom, so we can all wait for those youngsters to show up on an Iditarod team.  We learned about checkpoints and brought home many awesome souvenirs.  Most of all we will miss Vern Halter who treated each of us like we were special and shared with us his passion.

What Can I Say?

stuck in the mud

So . . . we rode on the Ranger behind the dog team again today and what a blast! Ducking branches, gasping in awe of these dogs’ power and enthusiasm, snapping pictures as quickly as I could and then . . . WE GET STUCK.

I have to admit I was very surprised we never got stuck before as we rode through the mud bogs and what looked like small lakes on the trail, but this time we were stuck.  Vern tried reverse, then forward a couple times then just turned to us and said, “Get out,” which we all did on command.  We are well trained and not afraid to get dirty.

Vern put it in reverse, we pulled.  He put it in drive, we pushed.  Three of us on the high side, I was in the middle.  We went through this routine two or three times and we were still stuck.  We tried once more and not expecting to be successful this time and I pushed with all my might.  This time it took, and as the Ranger moved forward I lost all the support I had and slowly fell into foot deep mud.  It was soft and cool and very, very messy!  Oh well, sometimes you land softly and are grateful.

The Ranger Savers

Another wonderful day – Blynne

Dream a Dream

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There is so much to talk about today as it was so jam packed with information, inspiration and just plain fun, but right now my mind is resting so peacefully on our morning walk that I want to share that with you now.

What a way to start a day.  We took the 8 month old litter named for boats, everything from Barge to Kayak, for a morning walk.  They were just as different as their names.  We walked about a mile with them, but I’m sure they did three or four times the distance we did.  The joy in their play was utterly contagious.  The beauty of Alaska was all around us.

Far from being hardened athletes these dogs possess the joy of life and the power of their young bodies.  They ran around and around us, teasing each other, exploring their beautiful surroundings, but never far away.  It was as though they were playing tag with each other and us at the same time.  At times they played tug of war with a treasure found in the forest and other times they rounded us up to make sure we all stayed together.  When we got back to the dog yard, the pups found their houses and were easily hooked up again.

What a life and what a way to start a day.

I have more observations and teachery things to share with you from this morning, but they will have to wait til we have breathed in this beautiful moment.